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Take, for example, getting your tailwheel endorsement. Every tailwheel pilot I know says it profoundly improved his or her stick and rudder skills. When I achieved that endorsement a few years ago, it certainly did for me.
“What, exactly, were you trying to do with that landing?” my instructor asked as he took the controls and told me to sit back for a moment and breathe. We were in his 1946 Aeronca Champ, and from the way he reacted, I thought I had nearly balled it up attempting a wheel landing, a technique that involves touching down on the main landing gear in a nose-level configuration.
I had to be honest. “I really don’t know what I was doing,” I replied.
“I can tell,” he said politely.
Landing a tailwheel aircraft requires a whole new understanding of pitch and yaw, as well as of coordinated flight and the use of the rudder, and the ability to feel the aircraft by the seat of your pants. Reading how the aircraft is reacting to a crosswind, or how much energy still needs to dissipate before touching down, or what direction the tail of the aircraft is headed versus the nose—all of these skills call us to master the fundamentals of flight in ways that a tricycle-gear aircraft simply does not require.
And, there is no better platform for enjoying VFR flight than the “low and slow” of the typical tailwheel aircraft. It’s the perfect aircraft to get into backcountry airstrips, to land on grass, or to meander among beautiful scenery. Best of all, many tailwheel aircraft have some of the lowest operating costs in all of general aviation.
Or, how about doing some training in spins or aerobatics? Understanding the aerodynamics of stalls and spins will revolutionize your confidence in controlling the aircraft in all types of flight conditions.
I called Catherine Cavagnaro of Ace Aerobatic School in Sewanee, Tennessee, and confessed that I had become uncomfortable—frankly, even a bit scared—with power-on stalls, and I needed her help.
I had good reason: Several years back a friend and I had terrified ourselves with an inadvertent spin he got us into while practicing full-power stalls in his Mooney. Thankfully, we had plenty of altitude to spare. But when that airplane flipped over and started into a spin that neither of us expected, it took a joint effort to think our way
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